Antarctica; a place where only 40,000 people visit each year, a landscape so strikingly beautiful it’s hard to believe it’s real, a continent so isolated it takes two days of intense crossing through the Drake Passage to reach it. This is a continent full of wildlife including whales, penguins and seals and a continent worth exploring in your lifetime. From kayaking next to glaciers to discovering the eight species of penguins that call this place home, here are 5 of the top things to see and do while visiting this incredible continent.
1. Visit Deception Island
Often called an island of doom, it was once a whaler’s station and now all that is left is giant rusting barrels that once boiled whale fat, decaying whale bones on the beach and a sense of gloom in the air. It happens to be one of the safest harbors in the world, as it is protected by high cliffs and a narrow entrance. Visiting here is a unique experience, as it tells the tales of the greed of men and creates a stark looking landscape, with an abundance of black lava sand. Visitors can hike up the mountains for incredible views, take a plunge in the waters that are said to be warmer than anywhere else on the continent due to the volcanic heat or enjoy watching the playful penguins. Described as a landscape from another planet, this is one island you won’t want to miss.
2. Take A Helicopter Ride
If you really want to splurge on your trip to this continent, there is only one thing that should come to mind, a helicopter ride over the incredible landscape. This is also the only way to get the unique experience of getting closer to the incredible Emperor Penguins at their secluded rookeries, that aren’t accessible by boat. The scenery below is stunning as landscapes of layered sandstones, lava flows and glaciers tumble out into the ocean as far as the eye can see. If you are lucky enough to land on Brown Bluff, the most scenic spot in the entire northern tip of the Antarctic Continent you can expect steep canyon walls, tumbling boulders, an ice-cap looming above and beautiful volcanic creations. The scene is complete with thousands of adelie penguins nesting on the slopes and a few gentoos mixed in for fun.
3. Climb Observation Hill
Observation Hill is one of the most iconic features of Hut Point Peninsula and the McMurdo Station surroundings, along with discovery hut and castle rock. This 754 foot volcanic feature is climbed by hundreds of visitors each year to catch amazing views of Mt. Erebus, Mt. Terror, Scott Base (New Zealand), the Dry Valleys, Black Island, White Island, both airports, and Castle Rock. The most notable feature on this hill is the wooden cross that was erected in January of 1913 at the summit, in memory of Capt. Scott’s lost Polar Party of 1912. The trail up isn’t difficult and takes less than an hour. Visitors with good weather will have no wind at the top and spend plenty of time taking pictures of the beautiful 360 degree surroundings.
4. Whale Watching
If you are most interested in seeing whales on your adventure to Antarctica the absolute best time to visit is February and March, at the end of the summer season. It is at this time when the whales seem to have lost their inhibitions and are more relaxed than ever. There are actually eight species of whales that live in these waters, the Blue, Fin, Humpback, Minke, Orca, Sei, Southern Right and Sperm. In Wilhelmina Bay, one of the first places many visitors experience, there is normally an abundance of whales, mostly humpback, orcas and Minke. The Bay has actually been nicknamed Whale-amina Bay because of all the whale sightings. No trip here is complete with whale sightings and the great thing about Antarctica is that there are whales everywhere you look. Although the three species, humpback, Minke and orcas are the most popular, some visitors are lucky enough to spot the rare and humongous blue.
5. Go Sea Kayaking
If there is one thing to splurge on as an “extra” in Antarctica, let us be the first to suggest sea kayaking. Bigger ships offer this experience as an extra excursion while smaller vessels have daily kayak trips included. Zodiacs will take kayakers into calmer waters where it is advised you know how to get in and out of a kayak and what to do if it rolls, as acting fast in these cold waters is a must. Silently paddling through Antarctica will be nothing like you have ever experienced as wildlife gets closer than ever and the only sounds is the scraping of ice against your kayak. Plan on paddling through ice, sucking on age-old glacier chunks when you are thirsty and experiencing a once in a lifetime opportunity.